Simian Mobile Disco - Live
It's a tricky time to release a live LP. In the last six months or so LCD Soundsystem and Led Zeppelin, two very different but highly significant bands, released two extremely poignant live recordings. Both to critical acclaim. Both rendering everything else released around the same time pretty much pointless
So, for Simian Mobile Disco, a band that only occasionally pops up in public consciousness to release a couple of singles, maybe a record if we're lucky, to take on heavyweights like those is extremely brave. And when you consider that Daft Punk, the duo that pretty much defined how to do live house albums with with Alive 2007, have been making more than waves in the past month, the timing for the SMD Live LP couldn't be trickier.
SMD fans then, should perhaps be thankful that the London duo not only have the catalogue of music to make the prospect of a live release incredibly exciting, they also have the live credentials – they're not studio DJs, they're out in the field playing live shows regularly, most notably a residency at FIXED in NYC which spawned the Is Fixed album in 2010.
In many ways Live is a testament to SMD, their music and their attitude towards dance. Mixes of 'Aspic', 'Cerulean' and others come across fantastically, adding new a new dimension to classic tracks. And there's a sense throughout that Ford and Shaw are completely focused from start to finish - there's a precision to all of it.
'Cruel Intentions', the centrepiece of 2009's Temporary Pleasure, which featured the incredible, although somewhat restrained, vocals of Beth Ditto, is again here the showpiece. It's the track you wait 40 minutes for and hold onto for the fleeting few seconds it lingers before SMD start to wrap up. But, actually, they wrap it up far, far too quickly.
Then again 'Cruel Intentions' isn't necessarily the track the hardcore SMD fan, which is who the live shows and this album are for, would be as interested in as much as, say, the closing tracks, 'Put Your Hands Together' and 'Sleep Deprivation'.
Overall, Live is a much darker interpretation of SMD's music. Often brooding, with little time for the pop hooks they're perhaps most loved for, and plenty of time spent playing with murky spiralling basslines and fiddling with frequency filters. On Live it's almost impossible to distinguish that iconic beeping melody from 'It's the Beat' after the first few moments.
What lets the record down, and unfortunately it's a big issue, is the way it's been produced. Live records should have atmosphere; you should be able to feel the audience react as SMD drop 'It's The Beat'. But instead what you get is a sort of canned laughter, a murmur of interest in between tracks that does little to excite. It's almost as if they forgot they were making a live record and only happened to catch a few moments of crowd noise spill over onto whatever microphones were set up on stage by sheer accident.
It's a fundamental floor in an otherwise decent live record, and it's a shame. It doesn't make you wish you were there, it doesn't make you regret not buying a ticket.
This then, is the sort of live record you put on at a house party after midnight, when you're too drunk to manage the Spotify playlist and your 'friends' have given up faffing about playing half-song after half-song on their own iPod. It's not a defining career moment for an otherwise influential and often polarising act but you can be sure it'll keep the party going till the small hours.
Purchase and listen
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No one would advise the members of Simian Mobile Disco to quit their day-jobs. Okay, so one half of the group, Jas Shaw, isn't up to much during daylight hours, but the "face" of SMD - James Ford - is best known through his work as indie producer to the stars. He's worked with artists as diverse as Beth Ditto, the Arctic Monkeys and Florence and the Machine, and earned himself a nice bit of indie cred through osmosis. [read more]